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Holiday Eating: Considerations for Keto and Primal Types

‘Tis the season… for wondering “Seriously, what the heck am I going eat this holiday??”

I’m guessing that most Mark’s Daily Apple readers can relate to the angst that comes with trying to be a “healthy person” during the holiday season. Are you going to indulge? How much? How will you feel physically and mentally if you do? How will other people behave if you don’t?

Particularly if you’re somewhat new to a Primal lifestyle, it can be hard to figure out what will be best for you—and keto comes with a whole additional set of considerations. Compared to a more general Primal way of eating, keto requires stricter adherence to carbohydrate limitation. Moreover, it is possible to measure your ketone levels and tell objectively whether you have crossed the line (not that you have to do so). If ketosis is your goal, there is no chalking up that chocolate pecan pie to the 80/20 principle [1] and being on your merry way.

Luckily though, it’s actually quite easy to stick to Primal and keto during the holidays if your brain doesn’t get in the way. In my experience, the struggle is largely mental—saying no to foods that don’t serve your goals and resisting social pressure—not a lack of delicious, healthy options. Of course, it’s up to you whether, and to what degree you are going to stay Primal/keto.

To Indulge or Not: A Few Considerations

It’s important to remember that there’s a huge range of options between 100% compliant and “I ate 2 whole pies by myself.” Just because you dip your toe in the water doesn’t mean you have to dive all the way in.

Many of us can probably indulge a little and be totally fine. To me, this is the spirit of metabolic flexibility [2]. It means that your body can use different fuel substrates for energy. And…if and when you eat foods that are out of the norm, it’s not a big deal. In other words, your body can handle what you throw at it—within reason. That doesn’t mean you can necessarily stay in ketosis, but unless you have a medical need, there’s no rule that says you have to stay in ketosis all the time [3] even if you consider yourself a “keto person.”

There’s a difference between “can” and “should.” Even if you can indulge without obvious negative consequences, whether you should really comes down to your health and your personal goals. You have to figure it out for yourself, and you might not know exactly where your line is until you’ve crossed it. It’s up to you whether you want to test it and find out.

While I’m a big fan of self-experimentation, there are people who are probably better off being mostly—or totally—compliant through the holidays:

In these scenarios, indulging even a little will set you back more than it would if you were further along in the process (I can’t quantify how much). Also, if getting away from sugar and carb-dependency was a tough road for you, you might not want to risk it.

Primal and Keto Options Abound

Although a lot of the focus is on treats, the truth is that much of the traditional fare is Primal- and keto-friendly.  I bet you can find something you feel good about eating at almost any meal or party even if your family is as standard as the Standard American Diet gets. Of course, you can always bring your own food to a gathering (bring enough to share—it’s the holidays after all), or you could host and serve whatever you darn well please. Be sure to check out our Primal/keto Thanksgiving recipe roundup post [5] for ideas.

This holiday, skip the dinner rolls and opt for:

Then there are the traditional holiday foods that aren’t Primal/keto-friendly in their most common forms but which can be adapted fairly easily:

A word of advice: Try your recipes ahead of time! Thankgiving afternoon is not the time to discover that the keto gravy recipe you found online really makes gravy jello instead.

But what about dessert??

The best option is to help yourself to another serving of turkey and homemade cranberry sauce, but what if you really want dessert? There are TONS of blogs devoted to paleo/Primal/keto desserts made with honey, maple syrup, stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and so on. Let’s not kid ourselves, however: these are still treats.

If you’re comfortable with paleo-fied pumpkin pie with a grain-free crust [9] and real whipped cream, or cheesecake made with a keto-friendly sweetener [10], go for it. Dark chocolate and berries with whipped cream are always an option, or baked fruit with fresh flaked coconut. Or eat the “real” dessert if that’s what you choose, but do it mindfully and in an amount that you won’t regret when you’re finished.

DBS—Don’t Be Surprised

I know I harp on this point, but I really think it’s important to have a game plan when you know you’ll be facing temptation or have conflicting desires (e.g., stay Primal/keto but also eat the crescent rolls). Decide what you want, establish boundaries for yourself (even if they’re somewhat flexible), and prepare for foreseeable obstacles. Consider the following:

If you are feeling conflicted, allow yourself to sit with those feelings. They’re totally normal, especially if you’re fairly new to this. Once you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll have a better sense of the personal lines you don’t want to cross. If you make a choice that you wish you hadn’t, the great thing is you’ll get a do-over at the next meal.

Lastly, don’t allow food to carry too much importance during this season. Instead, crank up the music, put on your coziest footie pajamas, and enjoy all the non-food related things there are to love about this time of year!

What’s your plan this holiday? Will you be eating keto at Thanksgiving or taking a looser approach? What are your favorite low-carb holiday recipes? Thanks for reading, everyone.